So, despite the rumours, seems like Android 5 still isn’t out yet. I’ve been checking the Nexus 7 a couple of times a day, and nothing has shown up. Guess we’ll be waiting a few weeks longer before it’s available to upgrade.

Finally got around to upgrading. So far it works no worse than 16, except my fancy login screen has been replaced with some crappy username/password entry box, and encrypted swap partitions no longer work (apparently the latter is a known bug).

Here’s roughly how I did it:

1. Use the backup tool to save a list of installed applications.
2. Boot up, plug in the USB backup drive and log in to a console terminal.
3. cd /tmp and sudo -i to become root, not in my own home directory.
4. Since I have an encrypted home directory, I now want to unmount /home/emg so nothing can write to the directory while I’m backing it up. So umount /home/emg.
5. Copy /home to the backup drive. This saves an encrypted backup which can be reloaded if everything goes horribly wrong.
6. While doing that, make a list of the partitions on the disk.
7. Unmount the backup drive, unplug it, and reboot on the install disk.
8. Select to install. Select all partitions other than /home, and choose to reformat them and install.
9. Set the hostname and username, and ensure you pick the same password as you had before, so the encrypted home directory will work.
10. Install.
11. Reboot.
12. Edit /etc/fstab to mount the old home partition as /home.
13. Reboot.
14. Log in as yourself, update (in my case, I had to download about 400 upgraded packages) and finish installing the packages you need.
15. Reboot for safety. Job done.

Houdini on the pumpkin

Happy Halloween from Houdini Hamster…

Another interview is up at Judy Goodwin’s blog.

Smiling zombie

Cover

My new Victorian fungus zombie short story should be up on Amazon shortly. I wrote the original version a couple of years ago for a print anthology, as an attempt to create a hard SF zombie story. It ended up less hard SF than zombie, so it didn’t get into the anthology, but I’ve since rewritten it to be about three times as long and cleared up the problems readers reported.

It’s discounted to $0.99 for Halloween, so, if you want a copy, get it while it’s cheap.

Should be at Amazon shortly.

Wow… I hadn’t seen this video before, showing IR footage of the Falcon-9 first stage re-entry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UFjK_CFKgA

Hoping to have this novel out next month, though there’s still proof-reading to do before it’s ready to go.

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

I must admit, I liked the CR-V a lot more than I thought I would. It was kind of the ‘safe and bland’ option on our list of CUVs to test-drive, and, though I liked the interior when I sat in one before test-driving, I wasn’t expecting that much.

Essentially, it’s the old Accord drivetrain, with a 2.4 liter engine and five-speed automatic gearbox, in a CUV body. Some might consider that bad, as it’s obviously old technology. However, it’s proven pretty robust on the road, with few problems other than occasional VTEC actuator failures. With so many other manufacturers rushing out relatively unproven technology like direct injection engines and CVTs to improve fuel economy, there’s something to be said for sticking with what works. Rumour has it that the CR-V may switch to the new CVT-based Accord drivetrain in the 2015 model.

Style-wise, it’s nothing special, with a non-descript front end and a fat butt. Looking at it from the outside, I expected the visibility to be poor with the small rear windows, but it seemed good enough on the road. In addition, the side mirrors have convex outer sections which expand their field of view.

The interior is comfortable and feels bigger than the Rogue. While I’m not sure I’d use them, the armrests are long and attached to the seat, rather than part of the center console. At first, the gearstick seems peculiarly placed, high up at the front, but that opens up space between the seats for storage, and my girlfriend could put her purse there while driving. Small things, but enough of them do add up.

Driving felt rather like a big Civic, other than the analogue gauges instead of the digital speedometer. Having driven thousands of miles in a Civic, I now have a hard time adapting to traditional instruments, and wish everyone else would switch to a similar design. Having the speed, temperature and fuel always in view means I never have to look away from the road.

One thing I soon noticed, driving on a windy day, is that crosswinds cause the back to wiggle at highway speeds. However, that’s not something we run into often, and probably not much worse than the Civic.

The AWD system on the CR-V isn’t the best, as an electronic system which waits for the front wheels to slip before moving power to the rear. But it’s capable of limited off-road use and should be good enough to drive around town in bad weather. Unfortunately we didn’t have any snow or ice to test it on, and didn’t have time to take it down our standard gravel back-road to compare to others we drove.

Overall, there are good reasons it’s often been the best-selling CUV in North America. Bland, yeah. But it does what most people need, and does it reliably. Safety ratings aren’t quite as good as some of the competition, but they’re close, and must be a heck of a lot better than the twenty-year-old car it would be replacing.

The one deal-breaker in the end was the ride. I thought it was OK, but my girlfriend was feeling a bit car-sick by the end of our hour-long drive. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of thing you can’t easily fix, so it dropped to second place on our list as a result.

Interesting article on how new cars are transported around the world:

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/automobiles/around-the-world-with-5500-cars.html?pagewanted=all

I guess our new one came here on a boat something like that.

Just uploaded a new version of Petrina to Amazon. No really major changes, I just revised the opening (mostly by swapping the order of the first two scenes), and tweaked some things that bugged me in the rest of the book.

So there I was recently, playing Goat Simulator, as you do during boring phone calls. When I quit, I looked at my Steam library, and noticed this game, Scourge: Outbreak. I didn’t remember buying it, and turns out I didn’t.

A year or three back I got Scourge Project in some kind of Steam sale deal, and I played for five minutes and quit. Turns out that Scourge: Outbreak is a remake of that game, and they gave it free to everyone on Steam who owned the original.

I honestly couldn’t remember anything about that game, so I thought I might as well install it and give it a try.

Start it up. Unskippable ad videos telling me it uses the Unreal engine and other time-wasting crap. Ugh. Why?

Really, just why? A new player starts up your game, excited to try it, and you make them sit through a minute or so of ad videos.

Who, exactly, in the game companies thinks this is a good idea?

Starting a new game gives you a choice between four different characters, and some guff about what each one is best at, but who cares? I picked the girl, because it’s a third-person game, and I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt while playing, so it might as well be hers.

So, on to the cut-scenes. At least they’re skippable, unlike Mass Effect‘s half-hour streams of boredom. Then the optional tutorial, which demonstrates how your character walks miserably slowly on their way to shoot a few things. Which is where you first learn some of the game’s horrible flaws.

The first is that the graphics are pretty dismal, even by console standards. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from a free game, but it delivered less. It looks as bad as Mass Effect on a bad day.

It’s another game with a ‘cover’ system requiring you to use special commands to hide behind cover, rather than just, you know, hiding behind cover. Any game that needs a cover system is just admitting that its user interface is horribly broken.

Oh, OK, it’s clearly a console game, so obviously its user interface is horribly broken.

You can only carry two weapons, because allowing you to carry more than two might be too much like fun, and that’s not allowed.

The space bar is used for jump, hide and run, and there’s no discernable way to tell which it’s going to do. The middle mouse button is used for magic shield and magic attack (they don’t call it that, but that’s basically what it is), and there’s no discernable way to tell what it’s going to do. The magic attack is powered by some magic goo that you have to collect, and about two attacks use up all your goo, so what’s the point?

Since it is a multiplayer game at heart, playing single player means you’re lumbered with three artificially stupid team-mates. The tutorial also demonstrates the really limited order system you can use to work around that artificial stupidity, but who wants to be forced to command bots in a shooter game?

There’s a lot of plot twaddle. And more plot twaddle. And something about a meteorite or something. I don’t know, because I was sick of cut-scenes and skipped it all. Not to mention that the horrible flickering in one of the cut-scenes threatened to give me an epilepsy attack. Then more cut-scenes. Then you get to walk slowly to some weird capsule thing. Then there are more cut-scenes.

So, you’re playing some super-elite soldier babe, and the tutorial has introduced you to a number of weapons that you can use, so what do you think it’s going to do now? Yes, you guessed it, it’s going to take all those weapons away from you and leave you with a pistol. Because having the weapons you want to use might be too much like fun.

Since it’s a third-person cover shooter, you spend a lot of time either being shot because you can’t go into cover behind things that are clearly quite suitable as cover, and being shot because you can’t get out of cover mode and move to where you want to move. It’s at least as bad as the awful Mass Effect games, and probably worse.

Oh, yeah, and since it’s a third person game, you also spend a lot of time shooting bullets into the wall right in front of you when you have to shoot around something the game won’t count as cover.

This is followed by walking into an area, being attacked by about a million identical, moronic bad guys, thanking the bad guys for leaving ammunition boxes randomly strewn around, but still running out and having to pick up some random weapon because you can only carry two. Then defend the area for five minutes while a thousand indistinguishable bots run toward you. Then hack a door (translation: hold ‘E’ for a few seconds) before moving onto the next area.

Then there’s a cut-scene where some guy spews some plot-twaddle, and you do the same thing again.

And crates. Did I mention crates? The one surprise in the game was walking into a few areas with crates and thinking ‘ha, there are crates, so clearly I’m going to get attacked and have to take cover’… only to not be attacked. Wow.

I should also mention that the reason you run out of ammunition is because the indistinguishable bad guys take about three thousand hits each to kill. You keep blasting away at them from close range with an assault rifle, and, after you kill half a dozen, no more bullets.

Then there’s lack of a save system. It randomly saves at checkpoints, so, if you get bored and want to quit, be prepared to have to fight through the same mob of identical enemies again to get back to where you were.

I could go on, but I quit before finishing the first level. From the screenshots, it looks like things might get interesting later on, but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to play through the boring parts to get there.

It’s not an awful game, it didn’t crash, it doesn’t expect you to pay to win, but it’s just mediocre. Everything it does has been done before, and done better.

We’ve been test-driving CUVs lately, so I thought I’d comment on some.

Nissan have had some problems with CVT reliability–a few years ago, they had to increase the warranty to ten years due to CVT failures–but claim to have resolved them. That was one black mark against the Rogue, but the reviews were good enough to make it worth a look.

One thing I immediately noticed on sitting in the passenger seat was that it feels small, and not in a good way. The exterior is a similar size to competitive CUVs, but the interior feels cramped, as though they’ve concentrated on exterior styling over interior comfort. Other than size, the interior does feel more modern than the Honda CR-V, and more up-market than the Subaru Forester.

The top-down camera is kind of neat, but only available on the high-end models. On the mid-range SV model, you have to buy the optional third row of seats–suitable only for dwarves–or it’s available on the top of the range SL model with two rows. Since it is a feature I haven’t seen on any competitor, I don’t really understand why they make it such an expensive option or force you to buy the extra row of seats if you want it in a cheaper model.

The cargo storage is well thought out, with dividers that allow you to temporarily create shelves or split the cargo space to prevent items rolling around. I wish other CUV manufacturers would do something similar. On the subject of the third row of seats, they do fold into the floor to give more cargo space, but that costs you the spare wheel.

However, on the road, it’s not so good. Ride has the usual CUV faults, and, at times, I found myself wondering whether I would actually make it around the corner I’d entered. Acceleration feels slow, and the CVT is loud and monotonous when accelerating, though not too bad when you reach a constant speed.

Visibility is so-so, not hard to see out the front, but the tiny rear quarter windows were blocked by the rear headrests, leaving a substantial blindspot. The rear-view camera helps with parking, but not with lane changes. I believe lane-change monitoring is available as an option, but glass is more reliable.

What really put us off, however, were the seats. Most of the reviews I read mentioned how comfortable they are, so I was suprised that they seemed uncomfortable within a few minutes of sitting down. A longer drive didn’t make them feel any better, and I couldn’t imagine driving in them for hours on the highway.

So, overall, one CUV that gets good reviews but doesn’t seem as good in real life. It does seem well-equipped for the price, and if you’re the right size and shape for the seats, it’s probably a good deal. Unfortunately, not for us.

So, I went through the whole reformatting thing for Space Weasels, uploaded it to Smashwords, and two days later ‘I see your NCX isn’t formed correctly in the EPUB file.’

Uh, what?

I’d already downloaded it the previous day and verified that the table of contents showed the same entries as The One That Got Away. So exactly what is supposed to be wrong with it?

Who knows? How can I tell? All I get is a pointer to go and read the style guide.

I honestly think I’m going to have to pull all my books off the site before long, because it’s such a damn pain in the ass to deal with.

Edit: I’m sure I shouldn’t need to add that their response to my support inquiry asking what they thought the problem was did not tell me what the problem was, and just pointed me to the same formatting guides which provide no information as to what they think the problem might be. So I’m left having to upload randomly modified versions of the file and hope that they eventually accept one.

This is just stupid. They’ll spend far more time reviewing fifteen versions of the file than just telling me what they don’t like about the table of contents.

Seems to be getting worse; now there’s flashing red crap on the screen, and I sometimes have to boot fifteen times to get a screen that isn’t all green.

Any time I boot into hardware-accelerated mode, whereas it displays fine when booting as a dumb framebuffer. Sadly, I tried the Mint 17 LiveCD, and, if anything, it’s even worse.

So, warning to the wise: if you’re buying a new laptop, don’t get one with Intel integrated graphics.

So there I was today, driving home from my day job, rolling along in a rush hour traffic queue. On the left was some piece of junk with a cloud of smoke billowing out behind it, alternately passing me and dropping behind as the queues moved at different speeds.

Then we passed the last of the stop lights and were able to get up to nearly the highway speed limit. The PoJ GTi passed me, followed by a minivan. Which proceeded to drive about six feet behind it at 80km/h.

Now, tailgating is stupid at the best of times, but what kind of brain-dead zombie would drive that close to a car that’s burning more oil than gas, with the combustion fumes going straight into their air intake? I’d already switched my car to recirculating the air because I didn’t want it full of burning oil smell.

Do people think at all on the roads around here?

Arrived on my Nexus 7 today. I can’t see any obvious difference, but it was only supposed to be a bug-fix release. Download and install was pretty fast, so I doubt much changed.

So, I finally uploaded The One That Got Away to Smashwords. I’d been putting it off, because the site is such a pain to use compared to Amazon; I have to completely reformat it into their own special Smashwords format so it can then reformat that into the other file types. Even on a short story, that takes half an hour or more, whereas running my conversion script for Amazon takes five seconds.

Did that, and, lo! Rejected because Smashwords’ converter had decided to mark every single paragraph as a new chapter in the table of contents.

Why? Who knows.

Tried fiddling with a few things and uploading, and it was still wrong.

Copied-and-pasted the text into a copy of the Welcome To The Future document I uploaded a few months ago, and lo! Everything works perfectly.

Why? Who knows.

I could upload a perfectly good epub, but then they won’t convert it into all the other files they sell on their web site, so I’m stuck with using Word documents. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s just too much hassle to bother with.

Edit: I believe I figured this out. Rather than doing something sensible, such as looking for heading styles to indicate the beginning of a chapter, Smashwords appears to assume that any text formatted with a style that contains the word ‘chapter’ is a new chapter. Since I use ‘Chapter Text’ for the generic text in a new chapter… each one becomes a new chapter. When I cut-and-pasted it, the text reverted to ‘Text Body’, which it’s now happy with.

What a pain.